American Exceptionalism Explained

The Recent Iran Situation Fits Into an Age-Old Pattern

  • Graphic Joey Bruce

The United States of America, the greatest country of them all, a city upon a hill, they say.

But is it really the case?

In many instances, America is no stranger to breaking the standards to which it holds other states.

The thing is, it almost never seems to be held accountable for the harm it causes.

At best, a short apology regarding an “incident” would be issued, but, most of the time, the U.S. denies, lies, threatens the accusing party, or just doesn’t address its faults at all.

There is a term used to describe this phenomenon: American exceptionalism.

In an article from The Week, journalist Ian Tyrrell gives an excellent definition of the term.

“Exceptionalism requires something far more: a belief that the U.S. follows a path of history different from the laws or norms that govern other countries,” Tyrell wrote.

“That’s the essence of American exceptionalism: The U.S. is not just a bigger and more powerful country—but an exception.”

War Crimes and America

On May 16, 1968, the U.S. army slaughtered more than 500 unarmed civilians in the small village of My Lai in Vietnam.

Infants, children, women, and old men were brutally murdered in the massacre.

A large number of young girls and women were raped and mutilated before U.S. soldiers slaughtered them.

The massacre was stopped by a helicopter pilot, who ordered the U.S. soldiers to stop the killing, or he would open fire on them.

The tragedy was covered up for a year, until a soldier who heard of it decided to send a report to the president, the Pentagon, and others—he never got an answer.

He then decided to give an interview to a journalist, and the news broke.

A trial took place wherein all the soldiers involved in the massacre were acquitted, army commander William Calley spending less than four years in prison before being paroled.

Two decades later, history continues to repeat itself. On July 3, 1988, Iran Air flight 655 was shot down, resulting in the death of all 290 on board.

The missile responsible for the crash was deployed by the USS Vincennes, an American missile cruiser.

In the aftermath, the U.S. claimed it was an accident.

Nevertheless, some began saying that the cruiser shot down the plane on purpose; the ship’s captain, William C. Rogers, was known for his aggressiveness.

In the early 1900s he received an award for his “outstanding service” during the mission.

Years later, in 1996, the U.S. agreed to pay $61.8 million to the families of the victims.

The U.S. and Iran have a long history of tensions between them, and recently
hostility has been high.

In a recent tweet, President Trump threatened Iran, saying that if it attacked America in any kind of way, the U.S. army would proceed to bomb 52
Iranian cultural sites.

This statement caught the attention of many, and experts warned that if the U.S. were to bomb those sites, it would be considered a war crime.

This leaves me wondering—would the U.S. actually be held accountable if it executed its threat?

If yes, what would be the consequences?

Money can’t make up for centuries of history annihilated to dust.

Breaking Laws

The U.S. also broke international laws under other circumstances, war crimes aside.

In November 2018, the American border patrol between the U.S. and Mexico fired tear gas at migrants, with dozens of canisters flying into the Mexican side of the border.

Experts stated that the U.S. has the right to decide who can come into the country, however this doesn’t give them the right to send tear gas into Mexico.

Gassing asylum seekers, who left their countries to escape violence and poverty, is an inhumane thing to do; the Human Rights Declaration states that everyone has the right to seek and enjoy asylum from the persecution experienced in their home state.

There have been other cases of violence against migrants from Mexico, but with no one actually doing anything about it—U.S. border officers really seem to be able to do whatever they want.

Moreover, the Trump administration broke rules again when the Government Accountability Office accused it of withholding security aid from Ukraine, which is illegal.

For President Donald Trump, this accusation has been an important matter in his impeachment case.

“That’s the essence of American exceptionalism: The U.S. is not just a bigger and more powerful country—but an exception.” -Ian Tyrell

Political meddling

We cannot speak of American exceptionalism without bringing up political meddling.

The U.S. has a long history of meddling in a myriad of countries, particularly in Latin America.

It’s funny how helping migrants doesn’t seem to be important, but when it’s time to do everything in its power to keep control over countries like Bolivia, Chile, and Venezuela, the U.S. doesn’t shy away.

Latin America abounds with natural resources, such as oil and minerals, making these countries extremely appealing and important to the United States.

In order to keep exploiting the resources, they have to make sure that the different
governments in place let them do so.

They will support the opponents of the regime or government they want to fall, by providing weapons, for instance, and will ensure their interests are protected.

Consequences faced by civilians don’t seem to be a factor for consideration.

Many Latin American countries the U.S. got involved in, like Venezuela, are in an ongoing crisis.

Poverty, civil war, violence, corruption—America encourages it.

American exceptionalism is a concept that should not exist anymore.

Laws and codes of conduct are made to be respected, even by the most powerful countries.

The U.S. should have to lead by example, otherwise people end up dying, and we see abuse, injustice, meddling, and more.

Unfortunately, we seem to live in a world where power and money can make you the exception to the rule—no matter the human cost.

By commenting on this page you agree to the terms of our Comments Policy.